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After $70 million renovation, a transformed New-York Historical Society reopens to the public
Photo of the newly renovated New-York Historical Society. Photo: New-York Historical Society.

NEW YORK, NY.- Throwing wide its doors as never before, the New-York Historical Society will reopen its landmark building to the public at 11 am on Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, 2011. A three-year, $70 million renovation of the Central Park West building has sensitively but thoroughly transformed the face of the institution—the first museum established in New York—to welcome visitors of all ages to a great cultural destination, and to immerse them in New-York Historical’s collection of extraordinary objects and sweeping ideas.

To help extend the welcome, New-York Historical will remain open on November 11 until 11 pm, offering free admission during that day to veterans and active service members and to children under 13, and free admission for all visitors after 6 pm.

Entering New-York Historical, renovated by the distinguished firm of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, visitors will encounter:

• a welcoming admissions area incorporating the ceiling from Keith Haring’s original Pop Shop, donated to New-York Historical by the Keith Haring Foundation

• unprecedented multi-media installations in the reconfigured Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History, which introduces major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York’s past, and includes a rich selection of objects from New-York Historical’s collection

• an innovative new facility, the DiMenna Children's History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed especially to engage young visitors as History Detectives exploring the richness and wonder of America’s past

• the first major special history exhibition in the renovated building, Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, a uniquely ambitious exploration of the interconnections among the American, French and Haitian revolutions

• a revelatory art exhibition drawn from works in New-York Historical’s collection, Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy, offering an in-depth look at the 19th-century paintings and sculptures collected by the New Yorkers who founded and built New-York Historical

• an exceptional dining destination, Caffè Storico, operated by acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr, serving lunch and dinner daily with a menu that focuses on cicchetti, small plates from the Veneto region of Italy

• and a host of other amenities, improvements and experiences designed to “make history matter.”

"I believe 11-11-11 – November 11th, 2011 – will be marked as the most important date for our Society since its founding 207 years ago," stated Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Board of the New-York Historical Society.

"The world has long known that the New-York Historical Society holds unmatched collections in its museum and library," stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. "More recently, people have also begun to know us for our vibrant special exhibitions, which bring complex historical themes to life. But we have never before opened ourselves up to the public with such light and transparency, or provided the kind of immediate access to our objects and ideas that we will offer when we reopen in November. It's as if, at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience."

Renovating a Landmark
On the exterior, the renovation project creates a wider main staircase and expanded main entrance on Central Park West; better sightlines into the building from the street; a redesigned 77th Street entrance with improved accessibility for school groups and visitors with disabilities, and dramatic illumination to highlight the architectural features at night and make the building a beacon within the urban landscape.

Inside the building, the project creates New-York Historical’s first new gallery on the ground floor, the 3,400-square-foot Smith Gallery; renovates and improves the adjacent Robert H. Smith Auditorium; provides for the new restaurant, renovated Museum Store and Rotunda on the 77th Street side; and establishes the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed separately by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership.

“Our goal was to transform the New-York Historical Society into a more active and engaging place, while respecting a century-old landmark by one of America’s most eminent firms,” said Ray H. Dovell, AIA, principal-in-charge of the project for Platt Byard Dovell White Architects. “We believe the strength and beauty of the building’s exterior will stand out in a new light, while the flow of space inside will draw visitors directly into the compelling stories that New-York Historical has to tell.”

The building was designed and constructed in 1903-1908 by York and Sawyer, a firm established by architects who had trained with McKim, Mead and White. York and Sawyer was also responsible for projects including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Bowery Savings Bank, New York Athletic Club and several of the buildings at Vassar College. In 1938, two new wings were completed, designed by Walker and Gillette. The current renovation is the most ambitious construction project at New-York Historical since that 1938 expansion.

To increase the street presence gained through the renovation and to heighten the building’s identity as a cultural destination, New-York Historical installed bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass at the east and north stairways. The statues were fabricated by StudioEIS.

Creating the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History
For the first time, visitors coming into New-York Historical from Central Park West will immediately see into the heart of the building, thanks to an elegant reconfiguration of the entrance space and the opening of a vista to the interior through a broad wall of glass. Visible at once through the glass will be the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History —the first permanent installation at New-York Historical to illustrate the themes addressed by the institution, provide an overview of the priceless collection and orient visitors to the experiences they may encounter.

The principal components of the Smith Gallery will be:

New York Rising: New York and the Founding of the United States
The centerpiece of the Smith Gallery, this installation draws from New-York Historical’s collections to examine New York’s critical role in United States history during the early Federal period, from around 1776 through 1804, the year of New-York Historical’s founding. A contemporary reinterpretation of a 19th-century salon-style art installation, New York Rising will feature a dense hanging of paintings, documents and artifacts, divided into five sections: Revolution, examining the American Revolution in New York; Marketplace, exploring how New York rebuilt itself after the Revolution; Capital, describing the era in which the histories of the city and the nation converged – from tastemaking to the Bill of Rights; Politics, uncovering the partisan factionalism of the Federalist era; and Civilization, revealing how New York’s diverse interests propelled the city to become the leading metropolis in the United States.

A dynamic concept developed by the David Small Design Firm (Cambridge, MA) will allow visitors to learn about the web of relationships among the events, ideas and people depicted on the wall by using five touch-screen monitors only a few feet from the objects themselves.

here is new york
Facing the New York Rising installation will be here is new york, a rotating display of photographs taken by the people of New York City on September 11, 2001, and immediately afterward. These images by 790 contributors were first collected in an almost impromptu exhibition in SoHo soon after 9/11. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.

History Under Your Feet: Floor Cases of Urban Archaeology
Dispersed throughout the Smith Gallery, nine manhole-like, circular exhibition cases, installed flush to the floor, will showcase relics such as arrowheads, military buttons, a colossal oyster shell, fragments excavated at an extant 19th-century tavern and a clock from the World Trade Center debris. The floor cases will be part of a lively history-themed, educational scavenger hunt for visitors. Through these objects, visitors of all ages will be introduced to the notion that history is all around us, even underfoot, in the modern city.

Created by the New York-based artist Fred Wilson (who represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale), the sculptural installation Liberty/Liberté takes objects from New-York Historical’s collection and arranges them into a complex and engaging environment, where the possible meanings of the artifacts seem to shift as the visitor walks through the space. Originally conceived for New-York Historical’s 2006 exhibition Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, the work incorporates items ranging from a section of wrought iron balustrade from the original Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office as President, to slave shackles and an anonymous tobacco shop figurine of an African-American man.

New York and the American Experience and Collections Highlights
New York and the American Experience is an installation on six structural columns in the Smith Gallery. Flanked by art and objects from New-York Historical’s collections, touch-screen stations will allow visitors to investigate large themes that represent points of intersection between the histories of New York City and the United States: Commerce, Culture, Expansion, Reform, Immigration and Slavery. On the other side of the columns, facing Central Park West, a dozen large-scale, high-definition monitors will present a continuous, thematic slideshow of Collection Highlights from New-York Historical’s collections.

Liberty and King George
A video animation based on the painting Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, New York City (1852-1853) by Johannes A.S. Oertel (1823–1909) transports visitors back in time to this historic moment on July 9, 1776, when patriots aroused by the reading of the Declaration of Independence destroyed the statue of King George III in lower Manhattan. Oertel’s work, painted 75 years after this event, takes liberties by adding American Indians, an African American, women and children to the scene. These figures represent groups who were affected by the coming revolution and whose rights were beginning to be redefined at the time of Oertel’s composition. The painted animation responds to visitors’ movements, and groups of visitors can actually collaborate to pull down the statue.

Michael and Leah Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall
A 10-foot-high display case beyond the columns will showcase large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper that previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity. In its first display, this changing installation will include the recently acquired Constitutional Convention notebooks of John Lansing, Jr., a New York delegate to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, and the Pewterers’ banner, which was carried by the Society of Pewterers of the City of New York in the Federal Procession of July 23, 1788, which celebrated the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. It is one of the only banners from the parade known to have survived.

The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization
At the opposite end of the Smith Gallery from New York Rising and here is new york will be an installation of Thomas Crawford’s sculptural masterwork, The Indian: The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization (1856). The Indian is a later remodeling in the round of Crawford’s figure for the pediment frieze of the Senate wing of the U. S. Capitol, a commission he worked on from 1853 to 1855.

Keith Haring’s Pop Shop Ceiling
The internationally renowned artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) opened the Pop Shop in SoHo in 1986 with the goal of making his art accessible to a wide range of people through the sale of T-shirts, stickers, badges, and other products bearing images of his work. Haring painted the interior of the shop in his bold, signature style, and the ceiling was preserved by the Keith Haring Foundation after the Pop Shop closed in 2005.

Bringing History to Life for Children
Located in a dramatic, 4,000-square-foot vaulted space on the building’s lower level are the new DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, both designed to engage families as never before.

The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, invites children to become History Detectives, learning about the past through the use of historical artifacts and replicas, illustrations and interactive elements. The core of the experience is a series of pavilions where children can identify with figures whose enterprise and creativity changed the course of our history. These biographical pavilions will introduce children to:

• Cornelia van Varick (ca. 1692-1733), daughter of Margrieta van Varick, textile merchant in 17th century New York

• Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the orphaned immigrant from the West Indies who became a Founder of the United States

• James McCune Smith (1813-1865), the son of an enslaved woman who became the country’s first university-trained African American physician

• Esteban Bellán (1850-1932), a Cuban youngster who became the first Latino to play professional baseball in the United States

• an Orphan Train girl (ca. 1890), one of the many New York City children transported by the Children’s Aid Society to new homes in the Midwest

• and a New York “newsie” (ca. 1890), one of the children who eked out a living selling newspapers on the street

In other interactive experiences, young visitors will be able to go to the polls at the Cast Your Vote pavilion; explore urban archeology at the History Detectives kiosk; deliver a presidential address at the First President kiosk, featuring a representation of Federal Hall; use the Historical Viewfinder display to see how selected sites in New York City have changed over time; and add their voices to the DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the installation American Dreamers.

At the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, young visitors and their families will find an area to sit and read children’s books and to use interactive displays to explore rare books, manuscripts and maps from New-York Historical’s collection. Surrounding these interactive elements will be artifacts related to the volumes on display.

The development of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Barbara K. Lipman Library educational materials is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Tracing the Course of Revolution and Making American Taste
To mark its reopening in 2011, New-York Historical will present Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian struggles as a single global narrative, and Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy, an exhibition that provides a fascinating look at the rich holdings of painting at sculpture at New-York Historical.

Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, from the triumph of British imperial power in 1763 to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Revolution! traces how an ideal of popular sovereignty, introduced through the American fight for independence, soon sparked more radical calls for a recognition of universal human rights, and set off attacks on both sides of the Atlantic against hereditary privilege and slavery. Among the astonishing, unforeseen outcomes was an insurrection on the French possession of Saint-Domingue, leading to the world’s only successful slave revolt and the establishment in 1804 of Haiti as the first nation founded on the principles of full freedom and equality for all, regardless of color.

Richard Rabinowitz, founder and president of American History Workshop, serves as chief exhibition curator. Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurent Dubois of Duke University have served as the co-chief historians for Revolution!, drawing on the scholarship of an advisory committee of distinguished historians and specialists.

Following its presentation at New-York Historical (November 11, 2011 – April 15, 2012), Revolution! will travel to venues in the U.K., France and elsewhere in the United States. Educational materials and programs will be distributed internationally, including in Haiti. The exhibition is made possible with grant funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Saunders Endowment for History Exhibitions, the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) program, the Ford Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council, and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Featuring 55 works from New-York Historical’s great collection, Making American Taste will cast new light on both the history of American art and the formation of American cultural ideals during a crucial period from roughly the 1830s to the late 1860s. During these years, spanning the era of Jacksonian populism through the aftermath of the Civil War, the role of the arts in a democracy was hotly debated in the United States. The exhibition will remain on view, with one brief hiatus, through August 19, 2012, after which it will travel to venues throughout the United States.

Organized by Barbara Dayer Gallati, Guest Curator, and Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Senior Art Historian of New-York Historical, the exhibition and an accompanying publication are supported by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the Walter and Lucille Rubin Foundation, Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles, Larry K. Clark, the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation, J. Joe Ricketts and many generous individuals.

Welcoming the Public with Fine Dining
Adding full-service dining to its visitor amenities for the first time, New-York Historical selected Starr Restaurants to create and operate a restaurant in its renovated landmark building. Caffè Storico will be a welcoming destination for both New-York Historical visitors and Upper West Side residents, featuring a menu focused on cicchetti, small plates from the Veneto region of Italy. Designed by SLDesign and featuring warm, contemporary design elements, the restaurant will be accessible through an independent entrance when the galleries of New-York Historical are closed. Starr Restaurants will also be the exclusive caterer for events at New-York Historical.

One of the fastest-growing multi-concept restaurant companies in the United States, Starr Restaurants is renowned for inventive and spectacular properties such as Buddakan and Morimoto in the Meatpacking District in New York.

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